CHAPTER FOUR
The Fortune Teller

ON the day following the visit of the Imperial Messenger, there was a large gathering of disciples at the house of the Sage. All our friends were present, including the inimitable fire-brand Lu-shun, as well as other old and new disciples and visitors.

The news of the Imperial Messenger's visit had spread like a sudden inundation of the Hoang Ho, which in later years was to become known as "China's Sorrow," when less masterly hands than those of the T'ien Tsze "Shi Hwang-ti," the present Emperor, directed the Helm of State and neglected the important supervision and repairs of various canal and river banks.

Questions by the disciples were followed by answers from the Sage with the dexterity of the rapid motions of two sword-fighters.

Many oblique allusions were made by some of the new comers to the visit Silver Lotus would soon make to the Capital, but all direct replies to these sly hints were evaded by an unobtrusive display of dexterous versatility and graceful wit.

The ubiquitous Lu-shun made a more direct attack by saying: "A wife is like a window curtain; when it is faded it is replaced by a new one."

Lai Pao took objection to this and replied: "He who obeys his tongue too often will rue it in the end, as the Master has said."

"When a fool commences to argue, it is better to be silent," said Wisteria, reproving both the last two speakers subtly.

"And to keep a secret, tell neither your friend nor your enemy," added Celestial Melody.

"Spoken like stilted Students of the Imperial Academy of Learning," said the unsquashable Lu-shun with a knowing leer; "or like scribblers from the Forest of Pencils, to give that Institute its more colloquial name," he sniggered.

"It is better to be rich in ignorance in this case than poor in wisdom," warned Ying Po Ching with a meaning look at the culprit. And he continued: "No-one is safe from a storm when sheltering under a trellis; and I cannot perceive even that feeble form of protection about the rash personality of the inelegant Lu-shun."

"The fox that has but one hiding place is soon captured," the latter replied with a look of vulpine cunning. "Perhaps," he continued, "this one has more adequate means of self-protection than the ill contrived example of that would-be clever Mandarin's insignificant trellis!"

"That may be so," replied Ying Po Ching once more with suppressed but unmistakable ferocity, "but remember that as death sends his first warning with the first wrinkle, ill-fortune may strike in this instance without any warning at all!"

Lu-shun thought this over and was judiciously silent for awhile, but his feelings became pleasantly savage when—with the eye of his imagination—he saw Ying Po Ching beset by a band of unattractive and torture-intending robbers; or vainly struggling in the hands of the "Four Wicked Ones"—who were once upon a time banished to distant territories by the ancient Emperor Shun. Especially would he have liked to see our worthy and well-meaning Mandarin in the clutches of T'au-t'ié (the Glutton, also called San-miau), the ferocious forefather of the Tribe of the same name, known later as the Tibetans.

Lost in these mind-elevating and spiritually profitable dreams, he failed to notice the entrance of a new character in our story; and not until that person was bowing elaborately before Li Wang Ho did Lu-shun become aware of his presence—taking an entirely unjustified dislike to him on the spur of the moment.

It may well be that the harmless and estimable Lu-shun had been unfortunate that day in the selection of his rice-providing Emporium, and that the ponderous quality of his last meal lay upon his digestive organs like a rock upon an unfortunate imp of the nether worlds who had misjudged the speed with which this mountain-missile had descended from a higher situation, thus preventing the unhappy elemental from pleasantly torturing a number of merit-deserving humans and so interfering in an unjust manner with his and their amusing destinies. At any rate: Lu-shun was not in the best of amiable forbearance of temper that day, and the newcomer aroused within him all the frolicsome tendencies of one who is afflicted with a malignant devil, suffering from an unendurable demerit.

But for the time being he stilled his surging emotions with the cloak of dignified unconcern and patiently awaited a propitious moment when he could safely make an attack upon the stranger, which would certainly take place after some fortunate omen should announce itself in some entirely unforeseen manner.

The Master, in the meantime, received the well-selected compliments of the stranger with becoming grace and at last he asked him for his name and quality.

It appeared that his name was Wang Ch'ung, and he added that he was the Master of the Yin Yang of a Temple in a far away City.

Upon hearing this Li Wang Ho turned to Ying Po Ching and asked him if the Priest from the Temple of Everlasting Delight, of whom he had been told, had yet visited Ying Po Ching's household in order to cure the ailing lady.

"Oh, yes," replied the Mandarin; "he came as promised but failed to effect a complete and immediate cure."

"What did he do?" asked the Sage.

"He told us to burn some special incense, and, when it had been alight for some time, he came in and waited for a moment outside the door of the lady's apartment. Then he stepped back two paces and murmured some mystic incantations, after which he entered the room. He then seated himself beside her bed and began to summon all his powers of spiritual vision. His eyes commenced to glow like live coals, and in his hand he held a naked sword, whilst his fingers were twisted in strange and significant positions.

"Again he murmured an incantation, but we could not distinguish the exact words, and we observed that he had the look of one who can see beyond this world into the realms of mystery and enchantment. Then he took some very special incense out of an ivory box and set it alight in a jade vessel of great beauty, carved with necromantic characters and recondite symbols. When it was burning well and great clouds of strongly scented smoke filled the room he shouted in a loud voice: 'To me, ye spirits of the second lower Region; come quickly and serve me well.'

"He sprinkled some earth towards the four corners of the world and, filling his mouth with specially prepared water which he drank out of a bottle inside his sleeve, squirted water all over the room. At the same moment a whirlwind of terrific strength and intensity set up, and within this wind we could see the dreadful figures of fearsome monsters, controlled by divine beings.

"He then addressed them and said: 'I have been summoned to minister to the sick lady you see here before you on the bed. Appeal has been made to my powers of Wisdom and Hidden Knowledge. I command you to bring to me the guardian of the soil and all the tutelaries of this household. Bring them to me, so that I may make examination and learn the reason of this prolonged illness. Hence, and fail me not, nor delay!'

"He then closed his eyes and sat upright upon one of the chairs. Gradually his colour began to change to an earthy greyish blue, as if he were attuning with the domains of the lesser demons. He placed his hands upon the table, and hammered upon it from time to time with a wooden mallet in the manner of a Magistrate who is trying a case. He continued this for quite a while, after which he came back to his normal self and left the room, taking me with him in order to inform me of what he had discovered in the exercise of his great Art. He told me that the lady was suffering on account of her misdeeds in a previous existence, when she was a famous courtesan.

"In those days,' he said, 'her experiences of love were only for gain; when one singing bird had sang his sweet serenade another songster came and continued the melody of love; and so it went from year to year until the end.'

'What can I do in the way of sacrifice to alleviate her present condition?' I asked.

'Neither you nor I can do anything,' he replied; 'for once the mind has taken its pleasures through the body, the body must pay the account in one life or another. It is all a question of what we attune with, and the bonds—once woven—will last until the pre-destined purpose is fulfilled—and the Gods untie them."

Li Wang Ho nodded at this with appreciation, but the Master of the Yin Yang jumped up excitedly and said: "The whole process of the exorcism, as well as the verdict, was completely wrong, my friends." And turning to Ying Po Ching he said: "On all important undertakings, in sickness or perplexity, you should consult the Master of the Yin Yang. Those ignorant Priests know nothing."

All were silent with astonishment at this rude and unceremonious behaviour, except Lu-shun, who gave a loud snort of derision, provoking mirth in all, even in his polished adversary Ying Po Ching.

"If the person who made the inelegant noise is ill I can burn some very efficient spells and written charms for him, the ashes of which he has only to put in water and drink to be fully cured," cried Wang Ch'ung insolently. "Or," he added, looking Lu-shun straight in the face, "if he wants a love-philtre—which is the only remedy for his unbenign facial mishaps—in order to persuade all the reluctant maidens at last, whom surely he has courted in vain till now, I am even willing to be persuaded, after receiving my just dues, to assist him in that way also."

This was Lu-shun's chance. All the omens were set fair; and he felt that the rest of the audience was with him, and that any disapproval-indications in the form of over-ripe lychee and other mirth-provoking articles—if used in the right manner and in connection with the right person—would not pursue their elegant orbits in his direction.

"Oh, ill-shapen dayspring of non-intelligence," he commenced mildly, "have the great philosophers Mo-ti and Mencius not said truly that 'one lighted candle on a storm-swept plain is better than a City being destroyed by fire?' Therefore your effete display of surfeit-creating eloquence could be much improved by the use of an occasional yea or nay instead—even if unheard by the rest of this erudite gathering."

"A person who has the facial characteristics of a bald-seated and mangy gorilla," replied the polished Wang Ch'ung, becoming somewhat personal in his remarks, "should himself practise the laudable rules of respectful silence, especially when addressing his betters."

"On the contrary," answered Lu-shun suavely, "when face to face with a collector's specimen of spiritually bedridden befuddlement, such as is expressed by your own uncongenial presence, one should always endeavour in a gentle and forbearing manner to unfuddle that person's addled wits."

"That apparition in the shape of a man who once upon a time must have been tall and slender, but who now bulges out on all sides, having lost his height on account of a heavy weight descending upon him in an unforeseen manner, and squashing the very little amount of brain with which he entered this world originally: that man, I repeat (if it is a man and not a bad dream), seems to be talking through the soles of his poverty-stricken and worn-down sandals," suggested the Master of the Yin Yang with an entire absence of clear-headed appreciation.

"Please, listen to me, ladies and gentlemen," he said disdainfully, turning to the others, "and let me explain to you the great powers and learning of a Master of the Yin Yang such as I am myself.

"Each person has eight characters of his destiny, and these are explained in all their various modifications and combinations in the Black Book of the Master of the Yin Yang, so that he—in his complete knowledge of all the lore of the Magical Arts—can foretell not only the destiny, fate or lot of any person in his present life, but also can he go back into the past incarnations and read the full story of all that has ever happened during his millions of previous lives. Not only that, but he can forecast the honours, dishonours, ranks, riches or poverty of all the coming incarnations as far ahead of the present time as his client is able and willing to pay for. But he does not run accounts to be paid to him in future lives of splendour, when in this instance his would-be client is devoid of the necessary taels!! We expect cash on the spot and in advance.

"He knows every auspicious and inauspicious moment, hour and gong-stroke during the twelve hours of each day, and advises on the happy times when all the Gods smile on him who has been initiated by the Master of the Yin Yang on all that should be done or not done at all times, or when the Spirits frown with the displeasure of Heaven on those who have not consulted him, or not paid their just fees to him in advance.

"Of Masters of the Yin Yang there are different grades; and of the lowest grade is he who hangs outside his dwelling place a sign upon which is written: 'Here by the aid of the divine and blesséd Book of Changes, are interpreted the Holy Decrees of Destiny. The fee is ten cash.'

"Such so-called 'Masters of the Yin Yang' are but low poltroons and charlatans, whilst the Great Initiates, such as I, belong to the High ones!!"

"Hear, hear," murmured Lu-shun, rousing a subdued titter, caused by gravity-removing thoughts, from those who understood his meaning.

Turning his uninviting front away from the interrupter, and presenting his tempting back to him, which produced an almost intolerable itch in Lu-shun's lower extremities, the "Master" of the High poltroons and charlatans of the Yin Yang continued: "We can prescribe the most wonderful cures for any illness coming, staying, or going; especially for the ladies, and I have a miracle-producing pill here, made of honey, rice-spirit, spurge, liquorice, kang-sha, coriander-flowers, pinella and powdered almonds, which will cure any vapours, hot or cold, attacks made by little demons chasing each other within the middle frame, cold feet or hot heads, dragons biting you in the sides, discomposing spasms in the lower or cranium-cleaving pains in the upper regions. Only ten ch'iens a box, but worth ten taels each! Take one every night and morning in hot camels' milk till cured or otherwise." Putting his hand in his capacious sleeve he produced as by magic a number of boxes and held them out invitingly to the disciples—but there were no offers.

"Appropriate presents will be made to the Master of the House according to well-omened sales," he added persuasively; but still without effect.

"I can plainly discern that all those who are so fortunate as to dwell within the shadow of such a benevolent Sage as the Master Li Wang Ho," he said adroitly, "are not in need of cures, as the Master's lassitude-dispelling radiations provide for all emergencies, at least as far as the ladies are concerned."

Turning round he continued: "A dosage of efficiently prepared white cocks-combs, mixed with powdered charcoal and Kola Nuts, and taken with copious draughts of strong hot wine, is one of my special medicaments for faltering gentlemen when in the discriminating presence of persuasive, highly accomplished and beautiful ladies.

"It is the favourite night-cap of the famous ascetics of Thelema. Only five ch'iens a large container."

Again there were no offers, but instead a deadly silence. Everyone looked expectantly towards Lu-shun, who did nothing, except grin in a very knowing and amused manner; as if he read more in the allusion to the "ascetics of Thelema" than any one else present!

"As it seems far from non-evident that everyone here is in the full possession of good health and all his powers, we will now tell you a little more about our methods of forecasting the future to clients worthy in every way of our intelligent trust in their benevolent integrity. For this we use the calculations upon the abacus, the spinning spirit-tortoise, the Black Book already mentioned, the mystic knuckle-bones, the omens from the entrails of birds and other animals, and a host of others. But my own favourite method, showing the highest mastery of our Art possible, is reading your hours of birth and death from your moles, shape of nails, your face, eyes, ears, brow, hair, lips, and the manner in which they are all placed in various positions upon you. I tell you from your height, your size, your gait and your speech what you can do, have done and should do to bring you success and happiness; and also how to destroy your enemies."

Lu-shun twitched all over at this, but regained his composure immediately by a truly masterly effort.

"For instance," said the "Master" of the Yin Yang, looking at Wisteria, "this lady's animal is the hare, in whose hour she was born; she likes novel things and beautiful garments and is a great eater when things are to her liking. She will have three husbands, eight children, and die at the age of ninety-five in the hour of the tiger.

"This lady," he continued, looking at Heart's Delight, "is of a loving disposition. Her animal being the snake she will have two lovers at the same time and wind herself around their hearts in the true serpent-like manner, and crush them with her devotion in the end. She will die at the age of forty in the hour of the monkey, revered by all."

Turning to Glowing Rose he said: "This lady was born in the hour of the sheep. She will become the ewe-lamb of a man in high position at Court and dwell in splendour for the rest of her life. She will join her ancestors at the age of eighty-six, leaving behind her a multitude of Sons, Sons of Sons, and Sons of Sons of Sons, and they will make merry at her Tomb, and she will enjoy listening to the echo of their happy talk and the joyous music of their laughter during the Feasts of the Ancestors and on many other occasions; for the dead like to hear such things—reminding them of happy times in their previous lives.

"The next three ladies," he said, looking at Moonbeam, Hibiscus, and Celestial Melody, "will all make happy marriages and will be the Great Ladies of their husbands who will all have many concubines over whom these three ladies will rule in strict benevolence. Their animals are the Rat, the Horse, and the Dog; and they will all live to a great age."

Directing his gaze now to the Silver Lotus he said: "But this lady has the most glorious Destiny of all; for her animal being the Ox she will mate with the mighty Tiger, whose Shield is the Dragon, holding down the Sun and Moon, lashing the Heavens with his powerful Tail, and snarling at the Four Corners of the Earth. At each snarl the Barbarians flee in awe-struck hordes, and his Dominions will be free from invaders for as long as he lives by her side."

The intelligent gathering realised by this time that the wily Wang Ch'ung had come to the meeting-place well prepared with all the necessary facts needed to make an impression of well-omened omniscience, leading perchance to large rewards from those to whom he had disclosed such agreeable futures, or even to an appointment as Court Magician—should the gratified Silver Lotus, for whom he had predicted such wonderful things (or even Glowing Rose), wish to reward him in this way if all came to pass as he had foretold.

The Magistrate Shu Tong now asked him: "Why do you seem to hold in such small respect the Divine Book of Changes and give your predictions without consulting this infallible source of knowing what the past, present and future hold for us? Please give us your reasons and tell us what you actually know about the Book itself."

The "Master" of the Yin Yang looked utterly nonplussed and was at a loss for a suitable and dignified reply, for when he had described himself unwittingly as a High poltroon and charlatan he had but spoken the truth—although by accident—with this reservation: that he did not even belong to the High ones of that ilk, who have expensively furnished establishments in the most luxurious part of the Capital, and spread their "fame" by means of costly "Make knowns" in the most aristocratically painted sheets, which they distribute at all the homes of the wealthy, where likely tael-producing clients may lurk. And before they thus inform the gullible rich of their existence, they lubricate in the most dignified manner the ever ready palms of their engaging myrmidons. (Thus they proved that they had nothing to learn from their modern successors in roguery, and that in order to reach the ever suspicious ear of the affluent, one must first satisfy the voracity of his flunkey's maw, gorge, or pouch.)

The Master Li Wang Ho—ever kind and considerate, even if he should discover a thief in the act of stealing his most treasured and precious pieces of jade—(for, after all, what is the use of such purely material things, except for their associations with dear friends, or past history?), now came to the rescue of poor Wang Ch'ung and said: "The Yî-king, or Book of Changes, is used for many different kinds of divinations. It gives a theory of the phenomena of the physical Universe, and of moral and political principles, by the trigrams and the different lines and numbers of the hexagrams of Fu-hi. Almost every sentence in it is enigmatic. No Chinese critic or other student of our literature has ever been able to give a satisfactory account of the Book. The last literary work of the divine K'ung Fu-tze was to base upon it his Annals of Lu; the title of which is the Ch'un Ch'in, or Spring and Autumn, in which the events of every year are digested under the heads of the Four Seasons; and it deals with the events of 242 years."

Doctor Chu Shih-Nien added: "The Book of Changes is the only part of Chinese Science which has ever been equalled by the White Barbarians; for there was a Philosopher and Sage with the heathenish name of Pythagoras who taught the Science of Numbers to his pupils at about the same time as our Book of Changes came into being."

"Perhaps," observed Li Ho-lu, the Merchant, "this white Philosopher was a pupil of our own Sage who constructed the Book of Changes?"

"Or," conjectured Lai Pao, "they may have studied in China under the same Teacher? No wonder that but few of the White Devils have ever been able to understand, or believe in, Pythagoras' teachings for the last few centuries."

The Master Li Wang Ho, in his benevolence towards all—even Barbarians!—now said: "The Wisdom inspired by the Heavenly Ones is not restricted to one clime only. But it is true that there is a remarkable analogy between the fragments about the elements of Numbers, which are the Elements of Realities to Pythagoras, and much of the Teachings of the Yî-king.

"But," he continued, "do not consult the Gods about the Future, for if it were good for you to know it you would already know—and the need for asking be past. There are many persons who are in the habit of consulting well-disposed Witches and tolerant Wizards, but the unintelligent person is he who daily consults the stars for good fortune but fails to notice that his house is collapsing on top of him. Such a one deserves to be called obtuse. And when a person has been burned to death, it is useless to consult the Master of the Yin Yang as to the meaning of this omen."

Wang Ch'ung, being really a person with a surplus of inefficient wit, had listened to all this with a perplexed air. His labyrinthine mind contained a heterogeneous mass of elevating misinformation, but of real knowledge he had little, and his head was full of misshapen ideas, upsetting—apart from a certain amount of native cunning—the inelegant balance of his misdirected efforts at thinking. So now he was wavering between two utterly uncongenial states of uncertainty and he did not know what to do or to say to save the rather mirth-deflecting situation, as far as he himself was concerned. Lu-shun, who had been looking with unmistakable gloating at the unfortunate "Master" of the Yin Yang, now remarked suavely: "This can only be grasped by those who carry high-crested domes beneath their ceremonial hats."

Wang Ch'ung spun round, and facing the last speaker, proclaimed bitterly: "Only one sprung from a long line of ancestors who were all he-mules could make such an uncouth suggestion!"

Lu-shun retorted in the most amiable manner: "You should use the upper part of your head more instead of the lower; but as it evidently contains a moss-grown brain—if any at all—it would be useless, I suppose."

"Oh, you, bankrupt of truth," shouted the now completely exasperated Wang Ch'ung, "if you raise your unmelodious voice again it will be as awkward for you as the opening of a wrong door in the dark." And he added maliciously: "I am surprised that you, as a disciple of the wise and forbearing Sage, Li Wang Ho, should have profited so little from his Wisdom."

Lu-shun replied calmly: "I note first that you threaten me; but though you may be a menace, you will never become a danger to this person. Secondly, you are surprised! But remember that after fifteen minutes of continued surprise, the mind refuses to be surprised any longer and takes everything for granted. And if you think that this person who now does you the honour of speaking to you has not benefited from the great Wisdom of our benign Master, remember too that there is no end to the road of scepticism if one has such an argumentative mind as you. But as you are only a man, and not the great magician you would have this refined gathering believe, it is obvious that your mind is not interested in either the recondite or the obvious."

Meanwhile Lu-shun had kept a wary eye on the Mandarin Yin Po Ching, in case that capable and very determined Official should take exception to his wordy opinions again and make further temperature-raising suggestions of exquisitely thought out punishments, as he had done twice already. But as a fair wind seemed to blow from that quarter he took a chance to continue the pleasurable and dignified conversation with his opponent—perhaps thinking at the back of his mind that he was dealing with his original enemy.

Wang Ch'ung, on the other hand, having already forgotten what the Sage had said a few moments before, tried a new form of tactics, and with ingratiating persistence he offered Lu-shun to discover to him what the future had in store as far as Lu was concerned; for he could see—he said—that Lu-shun was born in the Hour of the Pig—which might lead to all sorts of diverting possibilities. But that wily individual was just as agreeably pugnacious in his verbose refusals to learn the great secret.

"Nay, O reconstructor of misfortunes," he said at last, "I do not wish to benefit from the trivial froth that arises out of your obsolete understanding; I am not interested in a forecast of the future by a concave-brained individual. If the mother-toad thinks her young beautiful, what must your mother—if you ever had one—have been thinking of you?"

Wang Ch'ung replied sneeringly: "Your unnecessary lips, oh, inadequate Lu-shun, are running over with the wisdom-destroying iniquity of your superfluous mouth."

"And the light of your erudite lack of comprehension is like that of a burnt-out joss-stick, lying in a wet gutter on a pitch-black night," replied Lu-shun tolerantly.

Inspontaneous glimmers of a slow-burning and smoky intellect smouldered in Wang Ch'ung's incapable brain, and in acrimonious confusion he groped anxiously within the globigerinous ooze of his dull imagination for a suitable rejoinder, with which to crush as with an irresistible hammer-stroke his equanimity-diverting and tantalising opponent once and for all.

"May your goat swallow your pig-tail," he exploded at last in hopeless confusion; swallowing immoderately several times himself.

All had been listening to the elegant dialogue with the greatest amusement, and one of the disciples said to Lai Pao, with reference to the "Master" of the Yin Yang: "His education might be described as unpruned to a small extent."

"Why to a small extent?" enquired Lai Pao.

"Because there is so little of it," replied the other with aristocratic abandon.

This short pause gave Wang Ch'ung a chance to make a last effort to collect his shattered wits, and with absent-minded ferocity he said to the others with reference to Lu-shun: "His elastic morals are so overheated with wrong conduct that they could grow toad-stools on an iceberg!"

"And I," replied Lu-shun, "should like to initiate our worthy 'Master' of the Yin Yang as painfully as possible into the, to him, unfathomable mysteries of inelastic and strict morals; and that with the utmost of dignified malice. It is evident that the rat-infested region, which the 'Master' Wang Ch'ung thinks is his brain, is so full of the well-digested remains of those rodents' meals that it could be usefully employed for the benefit of large tracts of land under cultivation, which might otherwise be non-productive. This is the only use I can see for the doubtful matter now stored between his eyes and his pig-tail."

All that poor Wang could do after this last sally was to gulp noisily and often, whilst Lu-shun settled down more comfortably and with a feeling of great well-being in the cushions on his chair.

"If the two fiery opponents would only direct their inventive faculties and imaginations to higher things they could be of great assistance in improving the worlds where fine thoughts are appreciated," said the Master Li Wang Ho at last. And he continued: "They do not seem to know that if you have an opponent you should honour him, so that he shall be satisfied . . . . and degraded."

"Master," said one disciple, "how is it that you welcome all, even the unworthy? Is this wise, for might not an unworthy one do you an injury at some time?"

"No, my Son," replied the Sage; "as no wise person ever injures another, so are the others unable to hurt him. Therefore the truly wise are able to welcome all men."

"Then," asked the disciple again, "may an unworthy person freely misbehave in front of a wise man without let or hindrance?"

"Certainly not," replied Li Wang Ho; "the laws of etiquette should be observed by all, and those who know the rules may rebuke and instruct those who offend; for it is their duty to do so."

"And if one repeatedly breaks all the rules of good behaviour, what then, dear Master?"

"In such a case he is unworthy to remain in the presence of the wise, and he should be sent away. Kindness and good behaviour make for joy; bad manners for sadness. But no one can prevent either joy or sadness from coming when they will: for life is made up of both."

"What is the difference between a wise man and a stupid one, dear Master?" asked another disciple.

Li Wang Ho replied: "If you are wise enough to know how to blow into a flute in the proper manner, you produce a beautiful sound. But if you are stupid enough to try the same with the hilt of a sword, you produce nothing but a wheeze.

"This is the difference between the Beauty of Wisdom and the windiness of Stupidity."

Silver Lotus asked now: "How can one best put into words the beauty of wisdom so that all men may benefit?"

To this the Sage replied: "The raven croaks, the ass brays; mice squeak and tigers roar. It is the only way they have of making themselves heard, and we all know which animal is speaking, for no-one could mistake the bark of a dog for the singing of a bird. But we seldom know what they are actually trying to express.

"To be able to hear the Beauty of Wisdom in a wise man's utterance needs greater wisdom still; so how shall one who has little wisdom know the full significance of the beautiful words of the Wise? For behind the words of the wise man lies a greater Wisdom than can be put into words.

"Words are employed to convey ideas; but when the ideas are apprehended, men forget the words. Therefore the wise man does not concern himself with the beauty of wise words—but with the Wisdom which resides in perfect ideas only."

"Would you please, dear Master," asked Lai Pao, "explain to us once more the difference between the generous man and the miser? This disciple believes that it might interest our new friends."

To this the Sage replied: "The truly generous person needs lofty genius controlled by stern wisdom, softened by clemency and sweetened by amiability . . . . always give with a wise smile!

"A mean person is the embodiment of prideful arrogance, base craftiness and low cunning, which, on account of his spiritual pauperism he mistakes for caution."

"And what," asked another disciple, "are the main principles of human life and death, dear Master?"

Li Wang Ho answered: "As the shadow is dependent upon the light and the substance, so is man dependent upon the Light of the Soul and the substance of the human body: each having their own part to play.

"And when the shadow of a man—which is his body—fades away in the Night of Death, it descends to the lower regions; while the Light of the Soul ascends to the Higher: and the Light is Eternal, whilst the Shadow is not.

"And though there can be no shadow without a light, the Light is not dependent upon the Shadow."

"How different," remarked one of the disciples, "are the Master's words from those of the two wind-bags who quarrelled so unseemly. It seems to me that these two have been wasting our time."

"No, my Son," replied the Sage, "Time is like a gigantic and unknown Element, just as Space. These may be the great mysterious sixth and seventh Elements, which for untold millions of years will remain beyond the understanding of mankind, which, so far, knows only four, with a fifth—called Æther—just looming on the horizon of human thought; but whether humanity will ever fully grasp its deep significance is another matter.

"Time stands fixed for ever; immovable from all Eternity to all Eternity! To think that Time moves forward or backward, or can be 'wasted,' is just as great an error as thinking that Space has Dimensions. All material things move within Space and Time, both for ever invisible to mortal eyes. Thus I repeat: Space has no dimensions and Time does not move. Even the thought which connects the term 'Eternity' with Time is wrong; for it implies another Principle in connection with moving Time; and a 'principle' implies a beginning and an end. There must have been—according to this thought—a moment when Eternity commenced as a Principle; but, as nothing that humans can conceive endures, the Principle must wear out and cease to exist in the end. Time and Space in order to BE—cannot exist in the manner imagined by mankind any more than what they imagine Water, Earth, Fire and Air to be. If mankind could truly know—in its human and earthly form, and with the use of its earthly intellect—the true nature of Time and Space (which do not exist, although they may be elements), mankind would be the equal of the One Supreme Deity, the One Life, the Divine Source of all that is and is not but seems to be; and as such it would be immeasurably wiser than the Lords of Heaven—the Creators—themselves.

"Let us ask ourselves a few questions:

"Does Form exist? No, it is an illusion.

"Does Light exist? No, not as we know it; nor darkness.

"Does Deity exist? No, not as Man can conceive Him; for He—or IT—is unknowable. Therefore HE has no Being to Man; for Being implies a Personality, a beginning and an end. There is neither of these to Deity, Light, Darkness, Space or Time."

"What, then, does exist, belovéd Master?" asked Silver Lotus.

"Nothing that exists, IS, my child; only THAT which has no existence in Man's ideas of God, Time, Space, and so on, is real and actual."

"Then," said Silver Lotus, "That which has existence outside Man's thoughts: does that exist, dear Master?"

"No, it does not, for the fact of its existence would make of it too an Illusion."

"How are we to understand this, dear Sage?"

"It cannot be understood; for the moment it IS understood, it ceases to BE."

"Does it cease to BE because we bring our thoughts to bear upon it, dear Master?"

"Yes."

"Is Man equal to God, though on an infinitely lower scale of perfection?"

"Yes."

"Does God think?"

"Yes, the Creators think."

"Therefore: Man being in a sense equal to the Gods, or the Creators, does Man also think?"

"Yes."

"Then—if both God, or the Gods and men think (they being of the same affinity), why does Man's thinking negative all, and not the Thoughts of the Gods?"

"Both the thoughts of Gods and men are Illusions: and as soon as they seem to take form they must fade out at last and can have no further Being."

"Yet, dear Master, the Universe under God is called Eternal; and we are also taught that Man's Soul, being part of God, is Eternal too."

"This is perfectly true, my child, but it brings us back to the beginning of our argument. Neither Eternity, God, Space or Time (and therefore the Soul of Man) can exist as conceived by Man; as Existence, Time, Space, God and Eternity must have had a beginning in order to manifest—and therefore they will and must have an end. For this reason, none of these are what Man thinks they are; and so they are not! Thus I repeat: the moment Man thinks, images, or imagines these States of Unfathomable Mystery, he creates and destroys them at one and the same time; just as the Gods do when they use their imagination or their creative faculties."

"Then," asked Silver Lotus, "what are we to believe in—if God, Eternity, Existence, Space and Time do not exist?"

"We must believe, and know, dear daughter, that there is One Source, One Life, or One Hidden and Unknowable Supreme Deity; although IT has no existence. From IT all springs, without diminishing IT, and to IT all returns, without adding to IT, when it has done with the Illusions of Being and having Existence. This is the One Truth, and there is none other. Yet, in that inconceivable non-existence and non-being lies hidden such an Ineffable Glory that Man would be truly equal to the One Deity, or the One Life, if his mind could attune with that Divine State and fully understand.

"The amusing but futile arguments of the two whom the disciple over yonder said were 'wasting our time,' illustrate to some extent my meaning; and for that reason alone did I permit them to argue as they did. Each has built up in his mind a picture of the other's state of mind and being. Both are wrong, for persons such as they conceived each other to be do not even 'exist.' Therefore: what they imagined about each other has no existence any more than any other beings they imagine or see with the eyes of their earthly minds, or with their physical eyes, have any actual existence. The moment they created the attributes, mental and physical, of their opponents, these attributes were doomed to fade out and cease to be; for they existed only in their imaginations. It is the same with the Grand Imaginations of the Holy Creators, reflected in the mind of man by the medium of the Great Mirror of Nature. It is the same imagination, but on an infinitely higher scale, and seemingly eternal in its effects; still, it is imagination or creative imaging from the Mind of the Hidden Logos, which is the First Emanation of the Supreme and unknowable Deity, and of the Sons of Light: the Self-born Progeny of the Hidden Logos. They are His Viceroys, called the Creators, and the imaginative imaging of these Lords of Life is based upon the prototypes of all material things and beings 'existing' in the Light of the Higher Worlds or Planes of 'Being.' These creations are given imaginary existence by that faculty of Man (and to an extent of all sentient beings) which enables Man to reflect back to Nature, from his own mind, that which he believes he observes in Nature. By giving it this imaginary existence he adds, as it were, to the predestinations of these phantoms (for—being pure imaginations of the Gods—they are such, and they must inevitably be dissolved into nothing that is perceptible under any conditions at some time or another), and Man thus helps to doom them to fade out like a mirage in the end—as he is meant to do.

"It is taught in physics that nothing exists which is not according to Nature; you will now have a better understanding of what this saying really means, though its author was not aware himself of what he was saying when making this statement. Such persons never do!

"Remember also that Man, or any other being, can only reflect those Thoughts of the Gods with which his state of inner evolution allows and enables him to attune. The lowest evolved can only reflect as in a dream the images and imagings of their own kind. Those a little higher evolved may reflect some of the material aspects of Nature which attract their animal instincts and necessities; and so on . . . . until we find the highest evolved Man who can reflect the Thoughts of the Gods themselves in almost all their Sublimity.

"When such a man meditates on the Elements, for instance, which the average man knows, or seems to know to a small extent, he may come to the following conclusions:

"Water . . . . is the incarnating, negative Spirit of the Higher Mind and the higher Emotions.

"Earth . . . . is the incarnating and evolving shadowy Matter of the lower mind and bodily senses.

"Fire . . . . is the Life-giving, positive Principle of both the first two.

"Air . . . . is the sustaining Principle of the previous three.

"Æther . . . . is the Principle (or Element) in which all bodies float and have their Being. Perhaps it is the bodiless substance of the Souls of Gods and men.

"Time . . . . surrounds and holds fast immovably in its grip the illusion of duration, pervading the seeming Cycles of Spirit and Matter (which are ONE); yet allowing perfect Freedom to all it surrounds and pervades, and through which it courses in waves of motion, or vibration, though in itself not subject to Motion.

"Space . . . . is the Body of the Hidden Deity (which yet is bodiless) in all ITS inconceivable Majesty and Grandeur.

"These Seven Elements are all, and THE ALL, interwoven and moving by means of the unknowable Spirit of the All-Father—All-Mother (the true Source of Man's Soul), the Sublime Paraclete, inconceivable to both Gods and men; for conception would give them shape and form, and therefore substance—which IT has not; and if IT had then IT would be mortal or subject to change . . . . which is impossible.

"In some such way Man might reflect the Thoughts of the Creators; but these thoughts are still reflections, no matter how elevated their Order; and though they seem to exist, they are not! And if they were they could not exist!

"Apply these and similar ideas or principles to Space, Time, Eternity, Existence and God by means of your own meditations; it may be that it will help you to understand that which I am trying to convey."

"Yet," sighed Silver Lotus, "we seem very real!"

"Place the accent on 'seem' instead of 'very,' and you will be nearer the truth, my child," said the Master smilingly.

Singing Nightingale had listened to Li Wang Ho with the utmost attention, and he shyly said: "What the Master has just told us explains the 'Birds of Vision' which I have often seen flying at night. They rise up in the sky, and their silvery bodies disappear right into the Moon, and they sing the most lovely melodies the while. When they are gone entirely, the blue Wings of the Night fold up—and all is silent."

"Only a real Poet and Mystic can see these Birds," said Li Wang Ho, "for they are particles projected from his own mind, after his imagination has imaged them."

"And," continued Singing Nightingale, "all the Planets and the Stars are the Birds of the Imagination of God! There they fly in the Night-sky and sing their Music of the Heavenly Spheres . . . . until they too shall disappear into a Greater Moon, and the Universe of Time and Space encloses all that sleeps with its protecting Pinions folded around That which was . . . . not . . . . but has been translated now in Bliss Divine."

"Thus," said the Master, "does the Swan of Light descend and hover over the Mind of the Initiate, selected by the Angels."

And deep silence reigned within the Hall of the Yellow Rose . . . . .

NEXT— Chapter Five: The Favourite

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